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Building Emotional Resilience: Why Setting Goal Setting Matters

Building Emotional Resilience: Why Setting Goal Setting Matters

June 28, 20248 min read

Life can be challenging. Loss is a part of everyday life—whether it's losing a loved one, experiencing a relationship breakdown, facing financial problems, dealing with health issues, or encountering other tough situations. How we handle these challenges depends largely on our emotional resilience, which is our ability to bounce back from difficulties.

During tough times, we can adopt a blame frame mindset, where we feel like victims of our circumstances and focus on understanding what happened and who to blame. The types of questions we ask can lead us into a downward spiral: "Why did this happen to me?" "What's wrong with me?" "Whose fault is this?" "Why did they do that?" "Who is responsible?" "How can I pay them back?" "Why didn’t I…?" "Why did I…?"

A more productive mindset is to focus on outcomes and accept that, although you can’t change what happened, you can choose how you respond. Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals empowers you to focus on what you can control, helping you move forward despite the difficult circumstances.

In this article, we'll explore why goal setting is crucial for building emotional resilience and how you can start setting goals to handle grief and tough times.

Finding Purpose and Direction

During these times, it's easy to feel lost and overwhelmed. The future can seem uncertain, and it can be hard to know what to do next. This is where setting relevant goals can help. Achievable goals give us a sense of purpose and direction, guiding us when everything else feels out of control. They help us to stay focused and hopeful.

Bringing Clarity

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals helps clear up confusion. When life feels chaotic, specific goals allow you to focus your energy on what truly matters. This focus can make overwhelming situations seem more manageable. For example, if you're struggling with money problems, setting a goal to create a budget and cut expenses by a certain amount each month can turn a big problem into smaller, manageable tasks.

Boosting Motivation

Goals can boost your motivation, which is often impacted when dealing with unresolved grief. Knowing what you're working towards gives you a reason to get up each morning and keep going. Research has shown that people who set specific goals are more likely to persevere through challenges, and stay positive compared to those who don't set goals. This persistence and optimism are key parts of building emotional resilience.

Feeling a Sense of Achievement

One of the hardest parts of handling tough times is feeling like a failure and believing nothing is going right. Setting goals can counteract this by giving you opportunities to achieve small successes and feel a sense of accomplishment.

  • Small Wins Matter

Setting and achieving small goals creates a positive feedback loop. Each small success boosts your confidence and shows you that you can overcome challenges. These small wins can greatly improve emotional resilience. For example, someone dealing with a health issue might set small goals like walking a certain number of steps each day or gradually increasing their exercise time. Each milestone reached reminds them of their strength and progress.

  • Celebrating Progress

Celebrating your progress is important. Even small successes should be recognized and rewarded. Celebrations release dopamine in the brain, a chemical that makes us feel happy and satisfied. This helps reinforce positive behaviours and keeps us motivated. During tough times, these celebrations can lift your spirits and remind you that progress is possible, even when things are hard.

Celebrate small wins

Developing a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that you can develop your abilities and intelligence through effort and persistence and the focus is on outcomes rather than blame. This mindset is crucial for building emotional resilience, and setting goals is a great way to develop it.

  • Facing Challenges

Goals encourage you to face challenges rather than avoid them. When you set a goal, you accept that there will be obstacles to overcome. This proactive approach helps you see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as overwhelming barriers.

  • Learning from Failure

Goal setting also teaches that failure doesn’t have to define us and is not the end but a part of the process. Not all goals will be achieved on the first try, and that's okay. Each attempt, whether successful or not, provides valuable lessons. This resilience to failure is a foundation for building emotional strength. Understanding that setbacks are a natural part of progress helps maintain a positive outlook and reduces the fear of failure.

Improving Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is the ability to manage and respond to your emotions in a healthy way. Setting goals can significantly improve this during tough times as it reminds you that, although you can’t change what has happened, you can choose how you respond by the outcomes that you focus on and the goals that you’ve set.

  • Reducing Anxiety

Having clear goals can reduce anxiety by providing a structured way to approach problems. When faced with a challenging situation, uncertainty can be paralysing. Goals break down this uncertainty into actionable steps, making the situation less intimidating. For instance, setting daily or weekly goals for job searching can make the process less overwhelming for someone who has lost their job, by providing structure and reducing anxiety.

  • Promoting Positive Emotions

Achieving goals, even small ones, boosts positive emotions such as joy, confidence, and satisfaction. These positive emotions can balance out the negative feelings that often come with tough times, helping to keep your emotions in check. Studies have found that people who set and achieve goals experience higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Strengthening Social Connections

Social support is a critical part of emotional resilience. Goals can help develop social connections by involving others in your journey, creating a support network that can provide encouragement and accountability.

  • Shared Goals

Setting shared goals with friends, family, or colleagues can strengthen your support network. Working towards a common objective assists a sense of closeness and mutual support. For instance, someone struggling with fitness goals might join a group exercise class or find a workout buddy. The shared experience can provide motivation, support, and a sense of community.

  • Accountability Partners

Having accountability partners can significantly increase the likelihood of achieving your goals. These partners can provide encouragement, offer feedback, and help keep you on track. Especially during tough times, knowing that someone else cares about your success can be very motivating and reassuring. This support can make the journey less isolating and more enjoyable.

Smart goals

Practical Steps to Effective Goal Setting

Understanding the importance of goal setting for emotional resilience is one thing; implementing it effectively is another. Here are some practical steps to help you set and achieve S.M.A.R.T. goals during tough times:

  • Prioritise Your Goals

It’s essential to prioritise your goals and focus on what will have the most significant impact on building your emotional resilience. This might mean putting some goals on hold while you concentrate on more urgent or critical ones.

  • Set S.M.A.R.T Goals

S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework ensures that your goals are clear and attainable. For example, instead of setting a vague goal like "get healthier," a S.M.A.R.T. goal would be "walk 30 minutes every other day for the next 2 weeks." This goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

  • Break Goals into Manageable Steps

Breaking larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps can make them less intimidating and easier to achieve. Each small step should be a mini-goal that brings you closer to your overall objective. It’s beneficial to focus on the inputs you can control rather than the eventual result, which might be beyond your control.

For example, instead of saying “lose 1 kilo in two weeks,” it would be better to say, “stop eating refined carbs and sugar, eat 3-5 portions of green vegetables, and walk for 30 minutes every day.” These inputs are within your control and are more likely to lead to weight loss than just focusing on the goal of losing weight.

  • Monitor Progress and Adjust as Needed

Regularly monitoring your progress is important. Keep track of your achievements and setbacks, and be prepared to adjust your goals as necessary. This flexibility ensures that your goals remain relevant and achievable despite changing circumstances. I measure my blood sugar everyday to manage my diabetes and make changes to my diet according to the results.

  • Seek Support

Don’t be afraid to seek support from others. Whether it’s trusted colleagues, friends, family, or a professional coach, having a support network can provide encouragement, feedback, and accountability. Sharing your goals and progress with others can make the journey less lonely and more rewarding.

  • Celebrate Your Achievements

Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Recognizing and celebrating your progress boosts your motivation and reinforces your commitment to your goals. These celebrations can be as simple as treating yourself to a favourite activity or sharing your success with friends and family.

Setting goals is a powerful tool for building emotional resilience during tough times. It provides purpose and direction, gives a sense of achievement, promotes a growth mindset, improves emotional regulation, and strengthens social connections.

By setting clear, achievable goals and seeking support, we can handle grief and tough times with greater confidence and hope. In the face of life's inevitable challenges, goal setting offers a pathway to building emotional strength.

Grief Specialist

Ghulam Fernandes

Grief Specialist

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